A Measured, Economical Glimpse at “Utopia”
Series: The Giver Quartet (Book 1)
Publication Date (Reissue): September 25, 2012
Original Publication Date: April 1, 1993
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Length: 225 pp
Awards: Newbery Medal, 1994
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Publisher SynopsisJonas’ world is perfect. Everything is under control. There is no war or fear or pain. There are no choices. Every person is assigned a role in the Community. When Jonas turns twelve, he is singled out to receive special training from The Giver. The Giver alone holds the memories of the true pain and pleasure of life. Now, it is time for Jonas to receive the truth. There is no turning back.
Before The Hunger Games and the myriad dystopian novels that have saturated the YA market of late, there was Lois Lowry’s The Giver. Since I hadn’t read it and many reviews of other similarly themed novels reference it, and since it was a Newbery winner, The Giver made my summer reading shortlist.
Similar to Orwell’s 1984 or Huxley’s Brave New World, though written for a younger audience, The Giver presents a future utopian society. Unlike much of today’s works for youth and young adult audiences, Lowry’s novel isn’t unnecessarily lengthy. Lowry has a gift for economy, presenting the important details of her futuristic world in a fashion that serves her storyline well and reveals information in a natural, comfortable progression without ever needing to resort to info dumping. She’s a master of showing rather than telling.
The opening chapters are engaging and seductive, in that it gently sweeps you into this place where families gather round the dinner table and talk out their troubles. You are taken so unaware that it’s not until later that you begin to see something deceptive and dangerous is lurking beneath the surface. This community isn’t as honestly happy as it would appear. We come to see the truth bit by bit with our protagonist, as Jonas’ eyes are literally opened to the truths behind the workings of his society.
Themes center around individuality, freedom, choice, and the function and importance of memory and pain. Mature and difficult topics are covered that stir up controversy among some conservative folks, so the novel has been widely challenged for years. Given these issues and the novel’s ending, which is somewhat open to interpretation, Lowry’s work generates thoughtful discussion and dialogue. In this sense, The Giver is an crowning achievement.
That said, I was a little underwhelmed for two reasons. Lowry herself states that the novel was not designed to be science fiction, though it’s often categorized as such. Herein lies one of the work’s weaknesses. While I can’t elaborate without spoilers, there are some gaps in the “science” behind the engineering of this society, questions that are never satisfactorily addressed or answered. My other qualm is that Lowry so carefully presents this community devoid of strong emotion that her narrative voice feels a touch distant and tempered, robbing the tale of its full emotional punch.
— Dawn Teresa
4 of 5 Hearts. A Measured, Economical Glimpse at “Utopia.”
The Giver succeeds in presenting failed Utopia in a compellingly taut narrative. But ultimately, some of the book’s flaws dilute its emotional impact and undermine its reality, causing it to fall short of tremendous. However, as this is the first part of a quartet, I will reserve final judgment.